Detecting and estimating density dependence in wildlife populations


  • Associate Editor: Leonard Brennan


We review methods for detecting and assessing the strength of density dependence based on 2 types of approaches: surveys of population size and studies of life history traits, in particular demographic parameters. For the first type of studies, methods neglecting uncertainty in population size should definitely be abandoned. Bayesian approaches to simple state-space models accounting for uncertainty in population size are recommended, with some caution because of numerical difficulties and risks of model misspecification. Realistic state-space models incorporating features such as environmental covariates, age structure, etc., may lack power because of the shortness of the time series and the simultaneous presence of process and sampling variability. In all cases, complementing the population survey data with some external information, with priority on the intrinsic growth rate, is highly recommended. Methods for detecting density dependence in life history traits are generally conservative (i.e., tend to underestimate the strength of density dependence). Among approaches to correct for this effect, the state-space formulation of capture–recapture models is again the most promising. Foreseeable developments will exploit integrated monitoring combining population size surveys and individual longitudinal data in refined state-space models, for which a Bayesian approach is the most straightforward statistical treatment. One may thus expect an integration of various types of models that will make it possible to look at density dependence as a complex biological process interacting with other processes rather than in terms of a simple equation; modern statistical and modeling tools make such a synthesis within reach. © 2012 The Wildlife Society.